I am concerned: the Sixteen-Year-Old is reading Sam Tanenhaus's biography of Whittaker Chambers. I am concerned because Tanenhaus continually soft-pedals how much of a loon Whittaker Chambers is.
How big a loon? This is, after all, a man who could see no difference between Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes: "Keynes is a dialect of Marx not too greatly different than Slovene, say, is from Russian." How big a loon? This is, after all, a man who rewrote Theodore White's dispatches from Sichuan to make them say that Chiang Kai-Shek was China's Abraham Lincoln.
How big a loon? This is, after all, a man who can write about Richard M. Nixon: "My children have caught him lovingly in a nickname. To them, he is always 'Nixie,' the kind and the good, about whom they will tolerate no nonsense." That is enough to conclude that Chambers was either mendacious or mad. Kind? Good? Nixon? Chambers is either a liar, or a most unreliable witness.
How big a loon? Whittaker Chambers thought that Khrushchev's 1956 speech denouncing Stalin was a move aimed at undermining the morale and will of the West, and at making Communism a more dangerous and ruthless beast. The possibility of the Primacy of Internal Politics--that Khrushchev was more concerned about Russia, Russia's political system, and his own guilt about the 1930s and 1940s and his personal responsibility to try to foreclose the possibility of it ever happening again than about gaining a slight advantage in the Cold War--never enters Chambers's mind:
From Whittaker Chambers (1989), Ghosts on the Roof (Washington: Regnery Gateway: 0895267659), p. 287-90. Reprinted from Life, April 30, 1956: What the new Communist strategy envisages is the mounting, on a world scale, of a vast "partisans of peace" movement. Its formations will be the popular front... [but it will go] far beyond popular fronts, which however manipulable [by the Communists], have manifest limits.... [A]ll that is necessary to change the weather is for the Communist blizzard to stop freezing men's hopes.... [T]he tactical problem for Communism... [is] that of the wind and sun... competing to make a man take off his overcoat. To make the man--the West--take off his coat [his defenses against Communism], it was only necessary for Communism to let the sun shine.... [H]itherto, Communism could not let the sun shine [because of]... the person and official mythology of Josef Stalin. He personified those memories which... scarify the mind of the West with respect to Communism....
[T]he ice is going out, the ice that froze and paralyzed the messianic spirit of Communism during the long but (in Communist terms) justifiable Stalinist nightmare. Communism is likely to become more, not less dangerous....
Communism has not changed. The dictatorship of the Communist Party will not end. (The 20th [Party] Congress has acted to strengthen it.) It is unlikely that the slave labor camps will go or even shrink much. (Slave labor plays too important a part in the Communist economy and the victims of the reverse purge, or anybody at all who resists, will soon replace such political prisoners as may be released now.) Communist aggression against the West will not end. The 20th Congress has acted to give such aggression new, subtler, massive forms whose disintegrating energies are beamed first at specific soft spots around Communism's international frontiers and far across them--at West Germany, France, Italy, Britain, India, Burma, Indonesia. Yugoslavia is already doing a "slow dissolve" back into the Soviet system--a homecoming which Moscow's official disbanding of the Cominform is intended to promote....
But above all, it is the smashing of the Stalinist big lie that will change the climate, exerting its influence far beyond orthodox Communist lines, upon the internationalist and neutralist opinion of the West. With the smashing of the dark idol of Stalin, Communism can hope to compete again for the allegiance of men's minds.... What the 20th Congress meant to do, and may well succeed in doing, was to make Communism radioactive again.
To prefer to face a Soviet Union led by Stalin to one led by Khrushchev (or even Brezhnev) is a remarkably high degree of utter lunacy.
I'm going to give the Sixteen-Year-Old Ghosts on the Roof to read after he finishes Tanenhaus.