The Rotary Club of Pismo Beach / Five Cites
Leila Assal, First Place
Grade 10, Arroyo Grande High School
Teacher: Mrs. Derbidge
Josef Stalin, a communist leader in the Russian Revolution of 1917, once said, “A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic”. This statement and its meaning are both misrepresentations of humanity and more specifically, The 4-Way Test. It fails all of the four components—the questions we must ask ourselves when analyzing quotes like this.
The first question is, “Is it the truth?”. The answer is both yes and no. Yes, it is true that when we look at World War I and the Russian Revolution, we see numbers; how many deaths, percentage of decrease in population, and cost of war, all we see are statistics. We do not individualize the soldier, we merely look at numbers, judging the war by the amount of deaths, not the loss of lives. In this way, Stalin’s quote holds truth. But the truth lies behind human flaw, an inevitable imperfection of our nature that causes men like Stalin to lose empathy for such deaths. In this way, this quote is not an honest representation of the reaction to the many people who suffered from a loss of a loved one, even the people who look back on these tragic events today. Each man killed, as a result of the events to which Stalin refers, is a human being, a soul, a beating heart. And so for every death, there were people to cry over that soul, to remember that heart. These deaths were not just a statistic, they were devastation.
Secondly, is it fair to all concerned? It can be assumed that when Stalin made this statement, he was referring to the revolution, although it was a general statement. From the view point of the Russians of 1917, it was an unjust representation of what had happened, and a completely heartless statement made about human worth. It was unfair to all the people who had just lost loved ones to Stalin’s party, the Bolsheviks, in the untimely revolution. Although Stalin was a great leader—whether good or bad, he modernized his nation virtually overnight—it was unfair for him to sacrifice the lives of others, and dismiss it as a trivial act for the good of the country. Every death is a tragedy.
The next question we ask ourselves is whether it will build good will and better friendships. In this case, friendship was not in question to begin with; it did not affect the outcome of this historic event. Yet, Stalin’s quote did cause a feeling of resentment among the Russians and made them feel insignificant, as if they ranked last in the success of Russia. Stalin caused generations of Russians that did not know the meaning of friendship, happiness, or good will. Every action was taken for survival, not for living. It was ‘every man for their own’; no one helped anyone else because of their state of hopelessness in human kind.
Lastly, was it beneficial to all concerned? Again, assuming that the statement was made regarding the unfortunate events of the early twentieth century, there were benefits, but not to all concerned. The benefits were that Stalin weakened the Russians—millions would die under his regime—enough to take advantage of them, giving him almost complete power over Russia. These were the only benefits as Stalin was not able to improve the state of Russia, or its people. Stalin’s statement was not beneficial to Russia, its government, its economy, or its people. All it did was drain the happiness and hope of every Russian citizen.
“A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic”. This quote failed the 4-Way Test because it was neither correct nor fair. It sucked the hope out of the future generations and left a cloud of indignation hanging over every single person to whom it applied. All in all, they were just another brick in the wall.