Friday, January 28, 2011

"One death is a tragedy..."

"One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic." Josef Stalin

Timothy Snyder asks "Hitler vs. Stalin: Who Was Worse?", which amounts to a nonsense question as he acknowledges. We now have a much clearer accounting of how many each of them murdered, and both are among the most horrific mass-murderers in history. A paragraph from Snyder makes this point:
Discussion of numbers can blunt our sense of the horrific personal character of each killing and the irreducible tragedy of each death. As anyone who has lost a loved one knows, the difference between zero and one is an infinity. Though we have a harder time grasping this, the same is true for the difference between, say, 780,862 and 780,863—which happens to be the best estimate of the number of people murdered at Treblinka. Large numbers matter because they are an accumulation of small numbers: that is, precious individual lives.
It has seemed to me that the theological problem posed by mass murder, or any other horrible event resulting in mass death or suffering, is no greater [and no less] than that posed by a single instance.