Monster M*A*S*H
Monster M*A*S*H

War of Nerves was the 127th episode of the CBS-TV series M*A*S*H. The episode, which was the fifth episode of Season 6, was written and directed by Alan Alda. It originally aired on October 11, 1977.


Sidney arrives at the 4077th-- as a casualty. But his timing turns out to be auspicious as most of the camp is on the verge of going crazy.

Full episode summary[]

Wounded arrive, and one of them is Dr. Sidney Freedman, who was in a foxhole with a patient when they started taking enemy fire. Sidney suffered a head wound which turned out to be superficial, and he even feels well enough to help out in O.R.

Later in the Mess Tent, Sidney sees that tensions and tempers are starting to reach the boiling point among the overworked staff: Margaret and Charles are in a heated debate about whether or not he touched his nose during surgery, Hawkeye's personal habits are getting on B.J.'s nerves, and Radar and Klinger are at each other because Klinger insists on using Radar's teddy bear as part of yet another scheme to get a Section Eight. The arguments kick off even more squabbles that get so out of control that even Potter can't calm them down. He asks Sidney to see "some of the loonier ones" on a one-to-one basis, and Sidney sets up shop in the VIP tent.

Margaret is first to visit. She ends up talking about Charles the whole time, but insists that she's not at all interested in him. Charles is next, and says the same thing about Margaret. They both end up saying so much that all Sidney can do is sit and listen. Meanwhile, Tom, the patient Sidney was treating in the foxhole, is bright and cheery with Hawkeye and B.J. But when he talks to Sidney, Tom becomes nasty and angry. Sidney is discouraged by Tom's response and goes back to his tent, where he finds Klinger waiting for him. He says he is worried that he might actually be going crazy - that his whole "I'm crazy" bit isn't just an act anymore. Sidney assures him that, deep down, he is okay.

As Igor and Zale are about to burn some lice-infested uniforms outside, Igor's eye catches some crates lying nearby, saying "it could really be a nice little fire". Zale likes the idea, and the two throw the crates on top of the infected uniforms, but then they start grabbing other things to throw on the pile.

The next day, with help from others in camp, Zale and Igor's burn pile has grown exponentially. But when Potter sees it, he voices his disapproval and orders it dismantled. When he mentions to Sidney how loony the camp is getting, Sidney quietly tells him that a bonfire, a controlled response, just might be the pressure valve they've been looking for. Potter gets the point and, to the camp's delight, reverses his order and directs them "to assemble one regulation, bon-type fire!"

Sidney is then secretly sought out for advice by Radar, who is worried that he has become too reliant on his teddy bear. As with Klinger, Sidney assures Radar that he's fine, and that once he's home, he probably won't need the teddy bear anymore. Before Sidney's patient Tom is about to be shipped out, Hawkeye and B.J. ask him to talk to Sidney one more time. He agrees, but his cheery disposition again darkens when Sidney arrives; he angrily tells him that he'll never forget how much he hates him for what he put him through.

Back in the VIP tent, a now-despondent Sidney has another visitor, but this time it is Father Mulcahy, who gives Sidney some much-needed counseling. Mulcahy feels that a good antidote for Sidney would be to think about all his successes, but to Sidney, the reality of losing just one still hurts. He contrasts his own job with that of a surgeon, saying that when Hawkeye or B.J. lose one they're out of their misery, but when he loses one he loses a mind, and Mulcahy adds that when he loses one he loses a soul. Hearing the cheers from outside, Mulcahy tells Sidney that since he had talked Potter into allowing the bonfire, he should come outside and "take a little of your own medicine". Sidney agrees and joins the gathered mob still adding more things to the pile, all to loud cheers with every addition:

  • Klinger adds a copy of the Army cookbook
  • After playing a quick fanfare, Radar tosses his bugle on top of the pile
  • Some of the enlisted men (with Potter helping) throw a large desk onto the just-lit fire
  • Sidney takes off his uniform shirt and throws it in the fire, and then throws in his trousers
  • Hawkeye and B.J. throw Charles' cot on the fire

The group becomes entranced by the now fully-engulfed pile, and after a collective quiet moment of reflection, Potter begins singing the chorus from Keep The Home Fires Burning, and the rest of the camp joins in as the bonfire continues to illuminate the night...


The next morning, Radar is foraging through the still-smoldering embers of the bonfire so the camp can start the new day. He finally finds his bugle, and after blowing the first few notes of Reveille, Potter remarks that it sounds better than before.

Research notes/Fun facts[]

  • For some reason, Margaret is not present at the bonfire.
  • Initially, while Zale and Igor are piling up the uniforms, they are very close to the Swamp, but near the end of the episode the pile, at its full height, is at least twenty feet away from any building and tent in the camp. (Note that the initial night scene was shot indoors on a set, while the subsequent day/night scene was shot outdoors.)
  • "Keep the Home-Fires Burning" is a British war song published in October 1914, just five months after the onset of World War I. The music was composed by Ivor Novello with lyrics by Lena Guilbert Ford. Novello died in 1951, and was the namesake for the British "Ivor Novello Awards" which were first given in 1955. The Novello Awards are a forerunner (and later equivalent) of the American Grammy Awards, which were first given in 1959.
  • Peter Riegert is identified as playing "Igor" in the credits, but is never addressed by name in the episode. Normally, Jeff Maxwell portrays Igor.
  • Sidney remarks about how some people think I Love Lucy is real. I Love Lucy began airing in October of 1951 and was an immediate phenomenon: the overall rating in America of 67.3 for the entire 1952 season of I Love Lucy continues to be the highest average rating for any single season of a TV show ever, and by a fairly wide margin. Though no-one in Korea drafted prior to October 1951 would have seen the show, any American who came along afterward would have.
  • Sidney also remarks that once the war is over, Radar will likely not need his teddy bear anymore; this remark turns out to be an accurate prediction. In Good Bye, Radar (Part 2), when Radar is given a Hardship Discharge and sent home, he leaves his teddy bear behind on Hawkeye's cot. Later still, in As Time Goes By, Hawkeye donates Radar's teddy bear to Margaret's time capsule, saying it should symbolize "all the soldiers who came here as boys and went home as men".


Recurring cast/Guest stars[]

Uncredited appeearances by

External links[]