It was only fitting that the Japanese mafia be represented in Zenai Kaigi: the yakuza were very important to Sasakawa's postwar fortunes. By working with them and the LDP, Sasakawa gained one of Japan's three national gambling monopolies, a concession that eventually made him more money than his looting of China.
Sasakawa eventually came to crave respectability and tried to buy it. He made a great show of contributing large sums to charity while quietly financing neo-fascist groups in Japan and around the world. In one attempt to help establish a reputation as a fervent lover of peace, he even contributed a large sum to the building of Jimmy Carter's presidential library.
But Carter was no Nixon; that move still looks like mere public relations. The gift of the fountain at the Nixon Library & Birthplace was almost certainly heartfelt; Nixon was much beloved in Sasakawa's circles. In 1973, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, Sasakawa's partner in politics since the 1960s, staged a three-day fast and prayer vigil on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., imploring God not to stay the hand of Congress then seeking to impeach Nixon. (Nixon, of course, was not impeached; he resigned instead in disgrace. The Lord does move in mysterious ways, it seems.)
The world is a more complicated place than the one that appears in Steven Spielberg's movies, in Band of Brothers, or in books written by newscasters. What Nixon wrote in his book Six Crises about Eisenhower also applies to the generation Ike led into battle: "Eisenhower was a far more complex and devious man than most people realized." True. Nixon added that he meant that "in the best sense of those words." And so do I.
Band of Brothers airs on HBO. Every Sun., 9 p.m. Through Nov. 4.