Fondazione Carnegie per gli Atti di Eroismo

Letters to Andrew Carnegie

Fondazione Carnegie per gli Atti di Eroismo

Gaetano Melini


Letters to Andrew Carnegie | Fondazione Carnegie per gli Atti di Eroismo

Dear Mr. Carnegie,


I have often gone back and thought of you — about your clear and decisive work, appreciated equally by heads of state and the wider community, for the promotion of world peace and heroic acts aimed at achieving peace.

When? Definitely during the Commission’s meetings, which I have been a part of for 24 years, and where I am time and again faced with the question of whether we can continue to have full impact with funds that do not permit us to thoroughly fulfill our duties and, in a deaf society, our attempts to represent difficulties that have existed for too many years. The answer I give myself is always the same: the path you, Mr. Carnegie, have shown continues to be valid and relevant, and your tenacity and generosity inspire us yet. The theme of peace has been, and still is, spoken about extensively; it is a dream that we all have deep inside, but which has always remained a grand illusion.

The Emperor Augustus had the Ara Pacis built in 9 b.c. because he was convinced that the known world was heading towards a long period of peace. By then, Rome was the sole dominant power without the need to expand further, while the bordering nations or tribes feared it and often asked to be incorporated into the Empire. We know very well that just a few years later, Augustus was forced to move legions to quell rebellions or ward off invaders.

In the seventeenth century, after the bloody invasion of South America and the Christianization of the indigenous people, the Jesuits, who were very powerful at the time, decided to establish “reductions” aimed at peacefully converting the local people in those far lands. This plan stemmed from the conviction that such communities would easily become Christian civilizations similar to those in Europe, but free of their vices and flaws. In reality, conversions were achieved by force, many locals fled, justice gradually moved away from the word of the Gospel, and conflict among villages increased.

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, world peace was celebrated, and the media euphorically claimed, “History is over.” We soon realized that a balance had been broken within the areas of influence of the two superpowers, giving way to fragile crisis areas and local wars with unpredictable developments.

Even the trust put into the League of Nations, which was established to prevent World War II, turned to disillusionment. When a dictator has a plan to claim territories, the one language he understands is force. Diplomatic negotiation is only interpreted as a sign of weakness to the bitter end.


The theme of peace has been, and still is, spoken about extensively; it is a dream that we all have deep inside, but which has always remained a grand illusion.


In nature, life is asserted through competition, selection, and the law of the strongest; when stillness takes over, so does death. We have to acknowledge that humanity has never strayed too far from this primordial principle. It seems that recent major achievements that vastly improved the possibility of exchanging information have not increased awareness of the uselessness of conflict and the value of human life. Even religions, with their teachings on life, have been, and still are, tumultuous at times. Moral laws may be impeccable, but they are managed by humanity, and when man convinces himself that he is legitimately entitled to interpret the divine word, he acquires a confidence that prompts him to act fanatically and dangerously.

You were well aware of human limits and flaws; however, you were able to maintain your love for your neighbour and your conviction that we should work towards a peaceful world, even one small step at a time.

In our work, we consistently see this tendency towards the good, even if our community has not yet learned how to properly emphasize acts of generosity and altruism; these always take second place to selfishness and criminality. I believe that cultural education is the basis of true progress, and that nonviolence is the fundamental theme that must guide our every activity. It is not civil for example, for thousands of police officers to risk their integrity in order to prevent protesters from damaging public or private property, under whatever pretense, or in order to keep rivals apart.

Numerous acts of heroism continue to occur, and are often thrilling. Over the century, recognition of our institution has greatly improved, yet gaps remain. In Italy, very little is known of our organization and its philanthropic purpose. Up until World War II, the large amount of capital available was, in itself, a source of publicity, as were the cash prizes and scholarships for orphans, which were an unusual type of aid in our society. With almost total depreciation of our assets after the war, the Commission’s operations were drastically reduced. We have not “thrown in the towel” because we are convinced that we have a noble task, as you have shown us, and because, occasionally, we have received help that allowed us to survive, such as now from the Carnegie Hero Funds World Committee. Moreover, I do not believe that we have yet done everything possible to increase our assets, and I feel we have a duty to find new ways to obtain funding as well as to improve visibility.

We have moved in this direction, and we intend to solicit banks to sponsor us by ensuring them adequate recognition. At the same time, we will bring awareness to the Ministry of the Interior, which provides us with an office, and to other public institutions, suggesting that medals or diplomas awarded to their employees be presented during dignified public ceremonies.

With a touch of optimism and trust in the good inside each one of us, we hope to breach the wall of indifference surrounding us.

We continue to believe in your work and in the progressive betterment of humanity; it is to your teachings that we owe our motivation to move ahead.

Gaetano Melini