Essay: What Does an Oath Mean?

In the wistful inner ear, one imagines a soft transcontinental buzz, the sound of 13,000 consciences alert and intricately working. "Well," says each troubled voice, "I'd like to strike. I think we have plenty of reason to strike—wages, hours, job strain. But I signed an oath when I took the job. It would be dishonorable to strike. We have to find some other way."

Just hearing things, of course—like listening for waves in a sea shell. It did not occur to the air-traffic controllers to deliver that sort of archaic soliloquy, haunted by scruples. Most of them judged, briskly enough,...

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