Agent Orange was but one of a whole family of defoliants used during the Vietnam war. There were so many in fact that they are known collectively as the "rainbow herbicides": Agent Orange; Agent Purple; Agent Pink; Agent Blue; Agent White; and Agent Green. (Reservoir Dogs enter the Matrix.) They are named not for the color of the chemical but for the color coded stripe on the barrels they came in.
We now know that although the synthetic auxins might have been highly effective they came contaminated with dioxins - causing cancers and horrendous birth defects (deformities so extreme that photographs of affected individuals are often assumed to be faked). Whilst the action of destroying the environment as an act of war is not without ethical issues itself the more pressing matter is the fate of US soldiers, South Koreans (present as US allies in the Vietnam War) and Vietnamese citizens who suffered from the effects of these chemicals.
Thirty years after the end of the war and thirty five years since the widespread use of defoliants, a number of court cases are still pending. Most recently (end of 2005) a suit by a victim's rights group, the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA) had their lawsuit dismissed because Agent Orange was not considered a poison under international law at the time of its use by the US. This, despite accumulating evidence that the companies new about, and kept quiet about, the dioxin impurities:
In March 1965, Dow official V.K. Rowe convened a meeting of executives of Monsanto, Hooker Chemical and others. According to documents uncovered only years later, the purpose of this meeting was "to discuss the toxicological problems caused by the presence of certain highly toxic impurities" in samples of 2,4,5-T. The primary "highly toxic impurity" was 2,3,7,8 TCDD, one of 75 dioxin compounds.
From 'The Story of Agent Orange, from the November 1990 issue of the US Veteran Dispatch Staff Report.'
The US government, is not a party in any of the lawsuits claiming sovereign immunity.
The title of this entry comes from a sign over the door to the ready room for pilots involved in the defoliation operations at Tan Son Nhut Airport near Saigon. It is, as you probably realize, a play on the words of the famous slogan: Only you can prevent forest fires