There is nothing more insidious than a collective guilt passed down from generation to generation, dyeing a people with a kind of permanent stain. Contrition cannot define a political order. As there is no hereditary transmission of victim status, so there is no transmission of oppressor status. The duty of remembering implies neither the automatic purity nor the automatic corruption of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. History is not divided between sinner nations and angelic ones but between democracies, which recognize their faults, and dictatorships, which drape themselves in the robes of martyrs. We have learned over the last half-century that every state is founded on crime and coercion, including those that have recently appeared on history’s stage. But there are states capable of recognizing this and of looking barbarism in the eye, and there are others that excuse their present misdeeds by citing yesterday’s oppression.

Pascal Bruckner