There are consequences of our actions, though of course, since effects come after causes, we don’t experience those effects at the time they are caused. For contiguous effects, we don’t have to wait long. But other effects are long in coming. Some of the effects of our actions may not even occur in our lifetime.
English Flight Lieutenant Decker is lost in flight but lands at a U.S. Air Force base. Now in 1959, Decker learns that his combat partner, McKay is alive and was a war hero in both WW I and II. But Decker knows that due to his own cowardice, McKay died in flight in 1917. Decker could have saved him, but didn’t. He “lingered in the clouds” rather than engaging when needed in the battle in France. That Decker is “lost in time” as well as space, as Serling puts it, is obvious from the fact that Becker’s aircraft and clothes are ancient – something from World War I. It doesn’t take long to establish that Decker thinks it’s 1917 when it is in fact 1959.
If Decker’s story is true, Mckay can’t be alive. But he is, and he’s on his way to the base. This is ontological confusion: Is McKay alive or dead? But it leads to clarity. If McKay is alive, then the only way this could be true is if Decker really did commit an act of bravery in 1917 that saved him. He realizes that the purpose of his time travel experience is to give him the insight that acting courageously in combat was required of him. He escapes the base and returns to the air, and to the dogfight in 1917. When Mckay shows up at the base, he confirms the facts presented by Decker. Decker did indeed save his life.
So this is about the consequences of our actions, our cowardice and our bravery. And it’s about time traveling to those distance consequences, or at least to a time when we can assess the significance of our actions, both their utility and their moral status from a perspective quite different than that of a frightened pilot who does not want to die. We have the remarkable ability, at times, to transcend our momentary fears and concern, and lay the possible consequences of our actions before us, if not seeing the future, imagining it. A powerfully imagined plausible future is as good as knowing the future. Presented as an actual case of time travel, we should, I suggest, see time travel as what we do when we craft our decisions based on our insight into the future, from the present. Then what really happened to Decker is that in an extraordinary moment of intense reflection, he saw the consequences of cowardice and of bravery, and chose bravery.