A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic.

Josef Stalin (1879-1953) Soviet political leader
(Attributed)

Alternate versions:
  • "Death of one man is a tragedy. Death of a million is a statistic."
  • "One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is just a statistic."
  • "When one dies, it is a tragedy. When a million die, it is a statistic."
  • "The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic."
The actual quote (such as is supported) appears to be "When one man dies it is a tragedy, when thousands die it's statistics." It is found in David McCullough, Truman (1992), said by Stalin to Churchill in Tehran when the latter was concerned over the potential casualties of opening a second front in France prematurely. McCullough cites it to Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko, The Time of Stalin: Portrait of Tyranny (1981).

On the other hand, Mary Soames (Churchill's daughter) said in a BBC interview with Andrew Marr (11 Nov 2011) that she overhead Stalin say this to her father at Potsdam, when Churchill was upset over the death of a family friend and then apologized to Stalin given the high number of Russian war casualties.

The earliest mention of the quote and Stalin is a 28 Sep 1958 book review.

Compare to Erich Maria Remarque, Der schwarze Obelisk (1956): "Sonderbar, denke ich, wir alle haben doch so viele Tote im Kriege gesehen, und wir wissen, daß über zwei Millionen von uns nutzlos gefallen sind — warum sind wir da so erregt wegen eines einzelnen, und die zwei Millionen haben wir schon fast vergessen? Aber das ist wohl so, weil ein einzelner immer der Tod ist — und zwei Millionen immer nur eine Statistik." [Strangely, I think we all have seen so many dead in the war, and we know that more than two million of us are unvalued -- why we are so excited because of an individual, and we have two million almost forgotten already? But that is probably so because a single death is always a death -- and two million only a statistic.]

Also compare to a 1932 essay on French humor by Kurt Tucholsky, German journalist, pacifist, and satirist. He wrote of a diplomat in the French Ministry of Foreign affairs, who said: "The war? I cannot find it to be so bad! The death of one man: this is a catastrophe. Hundreds of thousands of deaths: that is a statistic!"
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 17-Nov-17
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