"If millions die, that?s only statistics" antedating (1947) Stalin

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Mon Nov 2 11:42:25 UTC 2009

Quoting Stephen Goranson <goranson at duke.edu>:

> Quoting Garson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM>:
>> "A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic."
>> Attributed to Josef Stalin in New York Times Book Review, September
>> 28, 1958.
>> Fred Shapiro gave this citation in his great column at the NYT blog on
>> October 29th. This quote and its suspiciously late attribution were
>> discussed here on ADS-L in 2004.
>> I think I have found an interesting earlier near-match through Google
>> Books that does not mention Stalin. Unfortunately, only snippets are
>> displayed by the search engine. The volume number specified by Google
>> does match the date of 1948, but the database is notorious for
>> providing inaccurate dates. Is this citation worth pursuing? Perhaps
>> someone conveniently close to a comprehensive library could check this
>> citation on paper?
>> A Frenchman has aptly remarked that "a single man killed is a
>> misfortune, a million is a statistic."
>> Unverified Citation: The Atlantic, page 106, Volume 182, Atlantic
>> Monthly Co., 1948.
>> Thanks for any help you can provide. Also, if this is an inappropriate
>> request for the list please let me know.
>> Garson O'Toole
> Yes, Garson, your citation is as stated, in issue no. 4 (October,
> 1948). It's in
> a book review (pp. 106-7) of Corrado Alvaro, Man is Strong (Knopf; tr. from
> Italian by Frances Frenaye). The reviewer, Charles J. Rolo, says "The
> book was
> published in Italy in 1939, after Alvaro has added a foreword stating
> that the
> police state described was Russia." No clue about the Frenchman's identity
> jumps out on first glance (i.e., the reviewer is not evidently quoting
> from the
> book).
> "Scourges as immense as fascism and war present the novelist with a knotty
> problem of ways and means. A Frenchman has aptly remarked that 'a single man
> killed is a misfortune, a million is a statistic.' How to encompass the
> emotional reality of that aggregate of horrors which so easily becomes a
> 'statistic' or a remote abstraction--'war dead,' 'purge,' 'pogrom'? Camus's
> answer...."
> Stephen

Here's a more specific claimed setting--and antedating--for the quote
attributed to Stalin:

In the days when Stalin was Commissar of Munitions, a meeting was
held...and the principal matter for discussion was the famine then prevalent in
the Ukraine. One official arose and made a speech about this tragedy--the
tragedy of having millions of people dying of hunger. He began to enumerate
death figures...Stalin interrupted him to say: "If only one man dies of hunger,
that is a tragedy. If millions die, that's only statistics."

Loose-Leaf Notebook
LEONARD LYONS. The Washington Post (1877-1954). Washington, D.C.: Jan
30, 1947.
p. 9 (1 page)

Stephen Goranson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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