Germany Year Zero was his effort to document the devastation of one of Europe’s most sophisticated and cultured countries, the home of Goethe, Beethoven, Kant, and other towering figures of Western civilization. It was an attempt to understand how such a country could have been overtaken by the horror of the Nazis. Central to the book is Morin’s unwillingness to reduce Germany and Germans to “sale boches” (filthy Germans), and to assess the horror of the situation in a broad context. Here we already find a cornerstone of what Morin, the Jewish resistance fighter who lived in mortal danger for the war years, would later call Complex Thought, a refusal to reduce and thereby “mutilate.” Complex Thought seeks to not reduce or polarize. Morin does not want to reduce Germany and its people to the actions of the Nazis, which in the immediate aftermath of the war was all too easily done. This refusal to reduce, to take a Manichean, simplistic view (such views are driven by fear, anger, and other emotions, but often masquerade as coldly rational) is a central element of Morin’s work.

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