There is a hypothesis about a frog’s reaction to boiling water. According to it, there are two scenarios that tend to follow.

If the frog is thrown into a vessel with water already at boiling temperature it will immediately sense the scalding sensation and jump out to safety.

On the other hand, if the frog is placed in a vessel with water at room temperature and the water is heated very slowly, it will not react with the same alacrity as before. It will stay in its position until it realizes that the water temperature has risen to dangerous levels. At that time, the hot water will have damaged its leg muscles such that it is unable to react. It will boil to death.

The boiling frog hypothesis is one way of analyzing how a reaction to bad news is tempered by the manner in which it is perceived.

If people are told extremely bad news outright, they tend to immediately react with force and passion. It can often save lives or allow them to rectify the situation. However, if the same bad news is relayed in bits and pieces, and over time, the reactions are more subtle. By the time the full extent of the bad news is communicated and understood, things are already beyond remedy

A case in point would be the comparison of reactions to the September 11 attack and its aftermath, both in the US and Pakistan.

9/11 was an event that brought global political violence to the doorstep of American homes. Never before in their history had the Americans experienced such an act of violence on their soil. It should not be ignored that that US has been one of the principal participants in nearly all of the large military conflicts in the 20th century, ranging from World War I to Vietnam. Not once had any of these conflicts even appeared to threaten the soil of mainland USA (thus excluding Pearl Harbour). The shopping centres, the industrial complexes, the universities, the stock markets and bustling city centres continued to flourish and fuel the great American dream even in times of war.

In fact, the US truly emerged as an economic and military super power due to its roles in both the world wars. It is therefore ironic that these conflicts never directly affected mainland USA.

However, 9/11 was different. It struck at the very heart of the American dream, in the capital of the American way of life – New York. More than 3,000 souls perished in a few hours at one of the premier real estate developments in the world. They were not soldiers but ordinary civilians working just a few blocks away from the hallowed halls of the New York Stock Exchange.

The impact of this event reverberated across the country. If New York could not be protected, could any place else in America be safe? A repetition of such events, even on a smaller scale, would have fundamentally altered public confidence in America – both within and without.

The US reaction, as one would observe in a frog suddenly dumped into boiling water, was violent. Self preservation was the order of the day. The policy pursued since then has been quite simple – and it has really not changed with the arrival of President Obama.

Whatever else the detractors might say; there has been no act of terrorism on US soil since 9/11. It is irrelevant whether this policy led to bloodbaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan or any other country. The sacred soil and American way of life had to be protected and it has been. As history has borne out over the last eight years or so, the policy has been remarkably effective.

Thus a vigorous and timely response to an extreme event has made Americans feel safer than they did on 9/12.

Now, let us look at Pakistan.

Very few, if any, could have predicted, on that fateful day in September 2001, that in less than eight years our world would be upside down.

The list is long but I would stick to the few facts that stand out. Pakistan is now being branded ‘the most dangerous place on earth’ by the Economist and other leading journals. Leading think tanks openly discuss the scenario of Pakistan as a failed state and analyze the impact of its impending break up. Visiting cricket teams have been subject to rocket attacks in the centre of Lahore. Holding international sporting events in Pakistan is unthinkable. The beautiful Swat valley is inaccessible to the rest of the country and has its own brand of an Islamic legal system. Less than 200km from the federal capital is an area where the writ of the state does not apply. Pakistani armed forces are under attack from within and wearing uniform in public can be dangerous. The Northern Areas and Baluchistan have become killing fields and there is an internal refugee crisis. American forces launch attacks on Pakistani soil with impunity and the response (both official and personal) has eventually become that of tired resignation. Suicide bombings in mosques, police stations and political rallies are the norm and there is a sense of relief if the death toll is less than ten.

Whenever Pakistan’s name is linked to a terrorist act abroad, it is accepted without much resistance. Genuine foreign direct investment and tourism in the country is non-existent.

Yet, this did not happen in one day or a year. It has been a slow drip of bad news over the last 8 years. We simply move from one crisis to another. The pain, stress and consequence of each crisis continues to rise and get more and more threatening.

Then why is it that we do not observe a sense of panic or genuine urgency. Be it the political parties, the armed forces or the general public, there is a sanguine acknowledgement of problems but no strong, passionate response. Even talk shows with doomsayers appear passé.

It appears that collective wisdom is to stick our heads in the sand and hope that the period will pass over like the ones earlier. But will it? Did the tragedy of 1971 occur in the few months preceding it or were the seeds sown many years earlier? Was it the action of Yahya, Bhutto, Mujeeb or the army that led to the separation movement, or the decisions and inactions of earlier years? One fact is clear: the desperate-boiling-frog-like army action at the last gasp certainly did not help. What lessons have we learnt from that experience, if any at all?

Post 9/11, America just changed. The survival instinct took over. Military actions were taken against Afghanistan and Iraq with or without the approval of the international community. Much lauded American commitment to human rights and privacy laws was steam rolled to seek out terrorists within. Guantanamo Bay, CIA torture or illegal detention – all were acceptable in the name of national security. Even George Bush got re-elected. Right or wrong, they did what they thought they had to do. They did not want to stay in the boiling water.

Zachary Karabell in his book “Peace Be Upon You” recounts the words of a French envoy in the court of the Ottoman Empire which at the time was fast decaying: “The Ottomans will probably persist in their errors for some time, and submit to be repeatedly defeated for years before they will be reconciled to such a change… for it is neither in courage, numbers nor riches, but in discipline and order that they are defective.”

Do we learn any lessons from history?

The key question is this: the water temperature around us has risen, but has it risen to a level where, even if we want to react, we are unable to do so? Or there is still time to respond?

The writer is an entrepreneur based in London