Ho there, astronaut. I hope you don't mind me saying it, but you're the prettiest thing in a Fleet uniform I've seen this side of the belt.
Wait girl, don't run away like that! I don't mean you no harm. With all the radiation I've taken in my day, well, lets just say that isn't what I'm interested in. Sit back down, let me buy you a drink by way of apology. Barbot, a Reactor Fluid for me and - yes? One for the lady, too. That's good, girl, even with all the drugs around today, real astronauts always drink pure, natural, liver-killing alcohol. So it ever was, and so may it ever be. Amen!
You want to hear war stories, do you? Yeah, you read that ribbon right, I did fight in the Trojan War. But I've told those stories a hundred times, and the more I tell them the less you kids enjoy hearing them. Once upon a time they were full of glory and adventure - jacking in and manually flying a missile after an EMP took its brain out! Marines, like devils battering down the pearly gates during the battle of Agamemnon! But now all that seems like just words to me, astronaut. Like words I heard somebody else say. When I think back to what I remember, it's the bridge stinking of piss because somebody's cathader came off during a battle, and hearing your best buddy screaming in pain as he dies of radiation when the particle beams hit, and forcing the prisoners to play Russian roulette because you don't have enough life support to carry them all back to base.
Barbot, another drink! But there I go, telling stories even though I don't want to. You've been in space fleet six years, your ribbons say. They still mean the same thing, right? Good, I'm glad that hasn't changed, at least. You must have some stories of your own, don't you? Humor an old man, tell me one.
Ah, that's what I was afraid of. I'm sorry, girl, but when you get right down to it, what is it that you do? Listen to three - or is it five now? Five, then. Listen to five computers argue tactics, then press a button when they reach an agreement. And what passes for tactics nowadays! How many milliseconds apart to fire the maser pulses? What randomization algorithm to use for evasive manuevers? You're only aboard because Washington doesn't want to frighten people with the idea of warships with nuclear weapons being flown by computers with no human supervision. You're nothing but a fig leaf, girl.
I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend you. I never wanted to be one of those old men who grumbles about how much better things were back in his day, and that's the truth! But this is one thing I just can't accept.
No, girl, it's not that I'm afraid that the computers are going to turn on us. I'm not silly as that, and I've seen AIs whose patriotism would put me to shame! It isn't that. Why, then? I don't know if you'll understand, but you seem like a bright girl, so I'll try.
When it's men in both ships - and women, you're absolutely right. When it's humans flying your ship, and humans flying the enemy ship, you both have someone you can respect. Because then the ships are just weapons, see, they're just tools. The real battle is between the people in both ships. Like in chess, to win you have to get inside the enemy's head, you have to think like him. And once you can think like him, look through his eyes, understand him, you can't hate him anymore. You still try to blow him out of the sky, oh yes, try as hard as you can, and he's trying to do the same. But when you manage, you feel a bit bad, because by then he's a part of you. And the reason that's important is because it puts a...a limit, on wars. It means you don't fight unless you have to. It means you that after you win, you don't nuke his colonies from orbit, because that's where his wife and kids live. It means that when you take him prisoner you don't torture him unless you need to, and you don't kill him unless you have no choice. And it means that he behaves the same way towards you.
But when all you and the enemy both ever do is press a button and let the computers do the fighting, who is there to respect? All the enemy does is press a button, and all his computer does is calculate.
They've taken the humans out of war, girl, and now that they have, you mark my words - they'll have taken the humanity out of it too.