The phrase is a cliché & buried in the cliché are a pair of pernicious ideas: 1) That individual soldiers are without moral, existential, responsibility for their acts; 2) that to argue the Iraq war is wrong, misguided, ill-conceived, badly managed, stupid, indecent, horrifying, & damaging to US interests is to somehow wish harm to “the troops.” Each “troop” is a moral agent & though we make certain allowances for individuals acting under military orders, one of the benchmarks of civilization is that we hold soldiers to a moral standard of responsibility. (Unless we secretly wish the “troops” to carry out our atavistic fantasies of violence, in which case we will exempt them from morality; that is, we will turn them into beasts.) I hate the war & I understand those fighting it to be participating in an immoral undertaking; that does not mean I wish them harmed. On the contrary, I wish that they would come to their moral senses. The cliché “support the troops” is simply the most obvious node in a self-congratulatory web of patriotic discourse threatening what the patriots claim to believe in. And it is a very successful discourse, since even opponents of the war must kneel at the alter of the sanctified “troops.” So, neighbor, take your magnetized Support the Troops ribbon & shove it up your ass. I hear that magnetism has magical properties. Maybe that will do some good against the cancer growing on your conscience.
Update: “Send a boy to war and he comes home talking dirty,” wrote Tim O’Brien in “How to Tell a True War Story.” O’Brien’s war was Vietnam; here are some examples from the current war.