Introduction: This is a scene from the HBO mini-series, Band of Brothers (2001). It takes place in Part 2, “Day of Days” at about the 13 minute mark. In this scene, two paratroopers (Lieutenant. Winters and Private Hall) have just linked up following a night drop into enemy territory during the invasion of Normandy. The following conversation occurs as they look for other U.S. soldiers and try to get their bearings while attempting to evade German defenses.
Key Facts: Different companies within the drop force were supposed to be dropped into different locations. for a variety of reasons (not the least of them being fire from German anti-aircraft guns), many seem to have missed the mark. Lieutenant Winters is from Easy Company (so he is not in D-Company or Able Company).
1) Lieutenant. Winters: “Aren’t you D-Company?”
2) Private Hall: “Able Sir.” (pause) “Guess that means one of us in the wrong drop-zone, sir.”
3) Lieutenant Winters: “Yeah, or both of us.”
Comments: The actual reasoning here is fairly simple, and this is one case where the conventions of argument analysis may lend themselves to unnecessary complication. So, let’s just get on with it.
Statements: We must add two missing assumptions, and each step of the reasoning will require some degree of rewriting to bring out the reasoning. Leaving out the problematic missing assumption, I would suggest the following propositions (each presented in bold).
1) [Missing Assumption: Lieutenant Winters is in Easy Company.]
2) Statement Two: [Private Hall is in Able Company.]
3) [Missing Assumption: Easy Company and Able Company have different drop zones.]
4) [Either Lieutenant Winters or Private Hall are in the wrong place.]
5) [Either Lieutenant Winters or Private Hall, or both of them, are in the wrong place.]
Discussion: This is a pretty simple exercise in reasoning. It touches upon dialectics, the reconstruction of missing assumptions, and the fallacy of false alternatives.
Dialectics: The argument illustrates dialectics insofar as the men cooperate to arrive at a common understanding of the issue.
Missing Assertions: Lieutenant Winters’ membership in Easy Company remains unspoken as it is obvious to both parties, as is the assumption that each of the companies in question has a different drop zone. It’s tempting to suggest that Private Hall makes a more serious assumption over the course of the discussion. In the second line, he infers from the fact that each was intended to land in a different drop zone that one of them must be out of place. This might be taken to assume that at least one of them must have landed in the right place. Alternatively, Hall makes no such assumption and the problem arises with his inference that one of them is in the wrong place. His account of the situation would then be incomplete, but it wouldn’t be erroneous. In keeping with the principle of charity, I would suggest going with the latter option as Hall’s specific wording does not commit him to the specific mistake in question.
False Alternatives: Whether it arises in an assumption or an inference, Lieutenant Hall’s conclusion fails to address the possibility that both he and Lieutenant Winters had landed in the wrong place.
Diagram(s): It isn’t clear to me that a visual diagram of the reasoning here is all that necessary or helpful, but for the sake of consistency I thought I should attempt it. After toying with a couple options, I am opting to suggest two simple models, one representing the Reasoning of Private Hall and one that of Lieutenant Winters.
Private Hall’s Reasoning
Lieutenant Winter’s Reasoning
Evaluation: Barring significant revelations from historical specialists, I think we can assume that premises 1, 2, and 3 are true, which leaves the inferences for us to evaluate. Assuming a literal interpretation of statement 4, support the inference in Private Hall’s reasoning would be weak at best, leaving an unsound argument. Support for the inference in Lieutenant Winter’s reasoning would seem to be deductively valid, though perhaps one could find a fiddly argument to bring it down to a rating of strong. In either event, Lieutenant Winter’s reasoning appears to be sound.
Final Thoughts: This kind of reasoning is more common in real life than it is in logic textbooks. The two men build on each others’ statements to achieve a common understanding. In the final turn, Lieutenant Winters does not so much tell Private Hall that he has made a mistake as simply suggest a better conclusion. As the narrative unfolds, Hall introduces a potential mistake and Winters simply sets it aside. As a food-for-thought kind of question, one might follow this example by asking students to think about the the varieties of context in which bypassing criticism would be more wise than direct confrontation. Conversely, one might ask if there are contexts in which direct criticism would be more useful.