The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 3 Episode 15 – A Quality of Mercy

In the last days of the WW II a platoon of exhausted American GIs is performing surveillance on a mortar team trying to destroy an enemy position inside a cave in the Philippines.  Sgt. Causarano and his men are discussing the weakness of the Japanese force in the cave.  They approximate it to be twenty men most of whom are injured and therefore unlikely to mount any offensive operations against the Americans.  In addition, because of their good defensive position extracting them will definitely require American casualties.  They decide the best strategy is to bypass this target and move onto a more dangerous force that is less difficult to assault.

At this point a new officer arrives to take command of the patrol.  Lt. Katell informs Causarano that he is going to run things by the book and the first order of business is a frontal attack on the cave.  The Sgt. respectfully advises the Lt. that at this late stage of the war a frontal attack on a target that isn’t a threat is overzealous and a waste of American lives.  Katell states that in a war killing the enemy continues from the beginning of the war right until the very end.

The men reluctantly prepare for the assault but just as he is preparing to call the charge Katell drops his binoculars and as he is looking down at them a confusing change occurs.  Instead of being night it is broad daylight and instead of Causarano, the sergeant picking up the binoculars is in a Japanese uniform and is addressing Katell as Lt. Yamuri.   Panicking, Katell (who looks and is dressed as a Japanese officer) bolts away from the Japanese encampment and runs toward a cave.  But as he approaches it an American soldier inside the cave sprays machine gun fire toward him and is answered by a Japanese machine gunner firing back at the cave.

In the next scene Katell/Yamuri is trying to understand what is happening but he is very confused.  He learns from the Sgt. that the year is 1942 and the scene is near the battle of Corregidor in the Philippines.  At that point a senior Japanese officer appears and admonishes Yamuri for not finishing off the American force in the cave.  He tells Yamuri that it is a small force of twenty men, most wounded and would be easily overwhelmed by a frontal assault.  Now it is Yamuri (Katell) trying to convince an officer that bypassing the cave would be prudent.  But the officer accuses him of cowardice or battle fatigue.

As they prepare to storm the cave, the scene shifts back to the American camp in 1945.  But before Katell can get his bearings a messenger announces the dropping of the Hiroshima bomb and orders to suspend hostilities.  After his disorienting experiences Katell seems greatly relieved not to have to pursue the attack he earlier demanded.

As we’ve noted earlier, Rod Serling served in an infantry outfit in the Philippines during WW II.  His disdain for needless loss of human life probably matched the feelings of many men who had served in the war.  The acting in this episode is very good.  I especially enjoyed the characterization of Sgt. Causarano.  His war weary but professional attitude was very appealing.  Dean Stockwell as the Lt. was also good.  Of interest is a cameo as one of the soldiers by Leonard Nimoy in his pre-Spock era.  B+

4 thoughts on “The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 3 Episode 15 – A Quality of Mercy

  • April 16, 2019 at 3:35 pm
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    The Marines found, in their island hopping, that it was not safe to allow a pocket of enemy to remain behind them in a cave. In a banzai charge they’d come out and try to catch our men from behind. Either they surrendered, and you had to watch out for feigned surrender, or the Marines blew the cave shut or burned it out. There were very few surrenders. Mostly it was no quarter asked or given. The Marines used satchel charges, bazookas (with both HE and White Phosphorus – called woolly peter), flamethrowers and WP grenades. The classes our guys got in the states before going overseas about the laws of war were quickly thrown out when they found out the Japanese had not taken the same classes. Listening to some of their buddies (like my great uncle) being cut up piecemeal when captured tended to make the Marines pretty darned hard.

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    • April 16, 2019 at 7:25 pm
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      So do you think Serling’s scenario would not have sounded convincing to the men who served in the Pacific?

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  • April 16, 2019 at 8:25 pm
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    Maybe not to the Marines. Saipan, Tinian, Iwo, Guadalcanal, Bouganville – probably not. For the Marines on those islands it was pretty much Aut vincere! – Aut mori! However, anything can happen in a war zone. Look at the Christmas truce in WWI. Trench warfare was especially brutal once you got into the enemy’s trenches or they got into yours. Rifles, grenades, shotguns (Americans), shovels, bayonets, trench knives with spiked handles, trench clubs with spikes harking back to medieval days. The difference was when the Germans surrendered in WWI they were serious. The Japanese in WWII often used feigned surrenders to get close enough to throw a grenade or detonate a hidden satchel charge (like an Islamic suicide belt today). Or the ruse used in the movie “Gung Ho”, where they strapped a weapon to their back, pretended to surrender then bent down so the guy with them could fire it. That scene was based on reality.

    For all the dirty tricks and massacres the Japs committed in the Pacific theater against Americans and Filipinos and Guamese, it was nothing compared to what they did in China, and to a slightly lesser extent, Korea. Reading those reports at the War College made my stomach go queasy and that is not easy to do. Worse even than the Nazis in their death camps.

    Serling saw a lot of house-to-house fighting against Japanese ordered to fight to their last breath. I believe this episode was wishful thinking on his part. Trying to insert humanity into a situation of almost total brutality, and it is set against the last day of the war, too. But tactically? Not really. About all the bypassing we did was against island strongholds. Destroy their aircraft, take away their supplies and let them rot on the vine, as it were. Give them the island and let them eat it. But bypassing troops in a cave and allowing them to fester behind you as you fought on to another objective? Not likely. Even if you did want to bypass them you’d have to leave at least a few men behind to make sure they did not come out in a banzai charge. Bypassing an island where the troops have no aircraft, no ships or boats and no way to get off the island other than to swim a hundred miles is okay. Leaving up to 20 soldiers in a cave behind you when you are leg infantry? No way. You THINK they are tired, hungry, wounded and defeated. But unless someone has been inside that cave (unlikely!) they would not know it. For all they knew there could be 20 armed and able troops waiting for you to bypass them. At least the sergeant would have recommended tossing in a few HE and WP grenades.

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    • April 16, 2019 at 9:13 pm
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      Well, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say it was wishful thinking.

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