"Missing" in Battle

I am referring to the Great war and subsequent wars- though not the most recent. Because of another thread I was looking at the Battle of the Somme, and there are still about 2,500 British soldiers listed as “missing”.

Now surely no one expects them to appear now. So why not declare them “killed in action”? (Okay a few may have deserted).

No remains recovered and identified.

How do you know they were killed in action? Maybe they deserted. Maybe they were POWs and killed much, much later.

How do “missing in action” ratios to accounted compare in modern wars (WW1 to present) vs. older conflicts such as the American Civil War? In modern wars you presumably have more people who were blown to untraceable shreds by high explosives. I think the Civil War might be a good comparison because it was modern enough to have reasonably good records of personnel but fewer deaths due to explosion.

Even today farmers occasionally uncover remains of soldiers from all combatants whilst plowing their fields.

These remains are analysed in attempts to discover the identities, if succesful they are either buried in the local military cemetary or returned to their homeland.

Missing in action means exactly that, missing

The remains don’t have to be destroyed; they just have to be unidentifyable, or not found.

Someone may be shot by a gun in a far corner of the battlefield, his body not found until decomposition made it hard to identify him. Soldiers did do things to identify themselves before dog tags became standard, but they could get lost. In the Civil War, you might write your name on your clothes, only if someone stole your coat before your body was found it would do not good.

Similarly, if were aboard a ship that sunk in deep water, your body wouldn’t be found. If all the people who could identify you were unable to do so (like if your unit suffered massive casualties), no one would be able to identify your body.

Nowadays, with DNA tracing, it’s possible to identify a body even if the person had been dead for years. But in older wars, you needed to figure it out before decomposition made it tricky. If anything, I’d assume there are fewer MIAs now than there were in past wars.

Which caused a problem with the attempt to have a “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” for the Vietnam War. An unidentified soldier was buried with full military honours in Arlington Cemetery, but in the 1990’s relatives of MIAs pushed for him to be exhumed and his remains DNA tested. Based on this, he was indeed identified and reburied in his home town. The tomb at Arlington remains empty because DNA testing has made it unlikely that anyone killed in Vietnam could remain unidentified today.