The Best Anti-War Episodes of the Twilight Zone

Rod Serling On Writing

When I was growing up Halloween weekend meant the Twilight Zone marathon would be run on a local television station in the San Francisco Bay Area (channel 20). From Friday night to Sunday, 5 seasons worth of these thought-provoking sci-fi/horror/supernatural stories would run back-to-back. The brainchild of Rod Serling – who wrote the majority of episodes – Twilight Zone tackled the moral implications of many important issues in an interesting and creative way, from technology and space travel to conformity and freedom of choice to war.

Serling was a combat veteran of World War II in the Pacific theater. His experiences made him oppose war, which was reflected in some of the episodes he wrote. As he said in the video above where he discusses the art of writing, “I was traumatized into writing by war events.” (21:45). His daughter recently wrote of how Serling was not a dark and tortured soul as many assumed, but a fun person who loved humor and practical jokes. But his war experiences definitely had a strong influence on him and his decision to become a writer:

“He hadn’t set out to be a writer; he was going to teach physical education to kids because he liked working with kids, but as he said, the war put an end to that,” said Anne. “He was quite traumatized and broken after the war and his father died while he was overseas as well, so there was a lot of unresolved grief.

“When he came back he went to Antioch on the GI bill and he said he went there because his brother went there, but like with so many vets, there’s PTSD – which wasn’t even a term back then,” Anne shared. “It was shell shock. But he finally changed his major to language and literature, because he said he had to get it all out of his gut.”

Consequently, there were several episodes of the Twilight Zone that explore the issue of war. My personal three favorites follow.

The first is A Qualify of Mercy from Season 3. The episode opens in the Philippines in the closing days of WWII. A hard-nosed American lieutenant wants his platoon to pursue a frontal assault to take out a group of sick and starving Japanese soldiers who are holed up in a cave. His men, tired and war-weary, are inclined to bypass the cave since the Japanese inhabitants are not likely to be a threat. The lieutenant is hit with a different perspective when he drops his binoculars. After picking them up, he suddenly finds himself in a similar scenario but as an officer in the Japanese military who meets his counter-part on the other side.

Clip from “A Quality of Mercy”

The second episode, also from Season 3, is The Shelter. Several families, who all live on the same street, see their friendship torn apart when it is announced that a possible nuclear attack is imminent and only one family has a fallout shelter.

Collage of scenes from “The Shelter” – spoiler alert

The third episode is The Thirty Fathom Grave from Season 4. A sailor aboard a U.S. navy destroyer is haunted by the fate of men in a submarine that has been discovered sunken off the coast of Guadalcanal. Starring Simon Oakland and Mike Kellin who gives a gut-wrenching performance as the troubled sailor.

Intro to “The Thirty Fathom Grave”

Happy Halloween!

5 thoughts on “The Best Anti-War Episodes of the Twilight Zone”

  1. I’m old enough to remember the original Twilight Zone shows. “The Shelter” is somehow the one that stuck in my memory. As our grammar school teachers might have informed us “it’s all about choices”.

  2. Thank you Natylie, I have a literary theory that some of our greatest writers came out of the European War experience
    Trying to discribe the experience.

    1. That makes total sense. It was such a momentous experience: war/death/destruction on that scale, with that kind of use of industrial technology, genocide, opening of the nuclear age, etc. I’m sure by the early 1960’s, many thinkers and writers were still trying to process it.

      Kind of reminiscent of the post WWI writers whom I was always attracted to – F. Scott Fitzgerald, Erich Maria Remarque, etc.

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