Chris Hedges: The Impending Collapse of US Empire

The military machine commits fiascos abroad. At home, by diverting funds and resources to endless war, it disembowels and impoverishes the nation.

Saddam Hussein’s statue toppled in Baghdad shortly after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. (DoD, Public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

By Chris Hedges
Declassified UK

The public perception of the American empire, at least to those within the United States who have never seen the empire dominate and exploit the “wretched of the earth,” is radically different from reality. 

These manufactured illusions, ones Joseph Conrad wrote so presciently about, posit that the empire is a force for good. The empire, we are told, fosters democracy and liberty. It spreads the benefits of “Western civilization.”

These are deceptions repeated ad nauseam by a compliant media and mouthed by politicians, academics and the powerful. But they are lies, as all of us who have spent years reporting overseas understand.

Matt Kennard in his book The Racket — where he reports from Haiti, Bolivia, Turkey, Palestine, Egypt, Tunisia, Mexico, Colombia and many other countries — rips back the veil. He exposes the hidden machinery of empire. He details its brutality, mendacity, cruelty and its dangerous self-delusions. 

In the late stage of empire, the image sold to a gullible public begins to entrance the mandarins of empire. They make decisions based not on reality, but on their distorted visions of reality, one coloured by their own propaganda. 

Matt refers to this as “the racket.” Blinded by hubris and power they come to believe their deceptions, propelling the empire towards collective suicide. They retreat into a fantasy where hard and unpleasant facts no longer intrude. 

They replace diplomacy, multilateralism and politics with unilateral threats and the blunt instrument of war. They become the purblind architects of their own destruction.

Matt writes: 

“A couple of years after my initiation at The Financial Times a few things started to become clearer. I came to realise a difference between myself and the rest of the people staffing the racket — the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) workers, the economists in the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and so on.” 

He continues, 

“While I was coming to understand how the racket really worked, I started to see them as willing dupes. There was no doubt they seemed to believe in the virtue of the mission; they imbibed all the theories that were meant to dress up global exploitation in the language of ‘development’ and ‘progress’. I saw this with American ambassadors in Bolivia and Haiti, and with countless other functionaries I interviewed.”

“They genuinely believe the myths,” he concludes, 

“and of course are paid handsomely to do so. To help these agents of the racket get up in the morning there also exists, throughout the West, a well-stocked army of intellectuals whose sole purpose is to make theft and brutality acceptable to the general population of the U.S. and its racketeering allies.”

The United States carried out one of the greatest strategic blunders in its history, one that sounded the death knell of the empire, when it invaded and occupied for two decades Afghanistan and Iraq. 

The architects of the war in the George W. Bush White House, and the array of useful idiots in the press and academia who were cheerleaders for it, knew very little about the countries being invaded. They believed their technological superiority made them invincible. 

Matt Kennard. (Twitter/X)

They were blindsided by the ferocious blowback and armed resistance that led to their defeat. This was something those of us who knew the Middle East — I was the Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times, speak Arabic and reported from the region for seven years — predicted.

But those intent on war preferred a comforting fantasy. They stated, and probably believed, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, although they had no valid evidence to support this claim. 

They insisted that democracy would be implanted in Baghdad and spread across the Middle East. They assured the public that U.S. troops would be greeted by grateful Iraqis and Afghans as liberators. They promised that oil revenues would cover the cost of reconstruction. 

They insisted that the bold and quick military strike — “shock and awe” — would restore American hegemony in the region and dominance in the world. It did the opposite. As Zbigniew Brzezi?ski noted, this “unilateral war of choice against Iraq precipitated a widespread delegitimation of U.S. foreign policy.”

The War State

America since the end of World War II has become a stratocracy — government dominated by the military. There is a constant preparation for war. The war machine’s massive budgets are sacrosanct. Its billions of dollars in waste and fraud are ignored. 

Its military fiascos in Southeast Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East disappear into the vast black hole of historical amnesia. This amnesia, which means there is never accountability, licences the war machine to leap from military debacle to debacle while it economically disembowels the country. 

The militarists win every election. They cannot lose. It is impossible to vote against them. The war state is a Götterdämmerung, as Dwight Macdonald writes, “without the gods.”

Nov. 24, 2004: U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld applauding President George W. Bush during his remarks at the Pentagon on a military spending bill. (DoD) 

Since the end of the Second World War, the federal government has spent more than half its tax dollars on past, current and future military operations. It is the largest single sustaining activity of the government. 

Military systems are sold before they are produced with guarantees that huge cost overruns will be covered.

Foreign aid is contingent on buying U.S. weapons. Egypt, which receives some $1.3 billion in foreign military financing, is required to devote it to buying and maintaining U.S. weapons systems. 

Israel, meanwhile, has received $158 billion in bilateral assistance from the U.S. since 1949, almost all of it since 1971 in the form of military aid, with most of it going towards arms purchases from American weapons manufacturers.

The U.S. public funds the research, development and building of weapons systems and then buys these same weapons systems on behalf of foreign governments. It is a circular system of corporate welfare. 

In the year to September 2022, the U.S. spent $877 billion on the military. This was more than the next 10 countries — including China, Russia, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom —  combined. 

These huge military expenditures, along with the rising costs of a for-profit healthcare system, have driven the U.S. national debt to over $31 trillion, nearly $5 trillion more than the U.S.’ entire Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

This imbalance is not sustainable, especially once the dollar is no longer the world’s reserve currency. As of January 2023, the U.S. spent a record $213 billion servicing the interest on its national debt.

The Empire at Home

The military machine, by diverting funds and resources to endless war, disembowels and impoverishes the nation at home, as Matt’s reporting from Washington, Baltimore and New York illustrates.

The cost to the public — socially, economically, politically and culturally — is catastrophic. Workers are reduced to subsistence level and preyed upon by corporations that have privatised every facet of society from health care and education to the prison-industrial complex. 

Militarists divert funds from social and infrastructure programs. They pour money into research and development of weapons systems and neglect renewable energy technologies. Bridges, roads, electrical grids and levees collapse. Schools decay. Domestic manufacturing declines. Our public transportation system is a shambles. 

Militarised police gun down mostly unarmed, poor people of colour and fill a system of penitentiaries and jails that hold a staggering 25 percent of the world’s prisoners although Americans represent only 5 percent of the global population. 

Cities, deindustrialized, are in ruins. Opioid addiction, suicide, mass shootings, depression and morbid obesity plague a population that has fallen into profound despair.  

Militarised societies are fertile ground for demagogues. Militarists, like demagogues, see other nations and cultures in their own image — threatening and aggressive. They seek only domination. They peddle illusions of a return to a mythical golden age of total power and unlimited prosperity. 

The deep disillusionment and anger that led to Donald Trump’s election — a reaction to the corporate coup d’état and the poverty afflicting at least half of the country — have destroyed the myth of a functioning democracy.

As Matt notes: 

“The American elite that has grown fat from looting abroad is also fighting a war at home. From the 1970s onwards, the same white-collar mobsters have been winning a war against the people of the US, in the form of a massive, underhand con. They have slowly but surely managed to sell off much of what the American people used to own under the guise of various fraudulent ideologies such as the ‘free market’. This is the ‘American way’, a giant swindle, a grand hustle.”

He continues, 

“In this sense, the victims of the racket are not just in Port-au-Prince and Baghdad; they are also in Chicago and New York City. The same people that devise the myths about what we do abroad have also built up a similar ideological system that legitimises theft at home; theft from the poorest, by the richest. The poor and working people of Harlem have more in common with the poor and working people of Haiti than they do with their elites, but this has to be obscured for the racket to work.” 

“Many actions taken by the US government, in fact, habitually harm the poorest and most destitute of its citizens,” he concludes. “The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a good example. It came into force in January 1994 and was a fantastic opportunity for US business interests, because markets were opened up for an investment and export bonanza. Simultaneously, thousands of US workers lost their jobs to workers in Mexico where their wages could be beaten down by even poorer people.”  


“Collateral Crucifixion” mural created by the artist duo Captain Borderline on the side of a house in Berlin, April 2021. (Singlespeedfahrer, Wikimedia Commons, CC0)

The public, bombarded with war propaganda, cheers on their self-immolation. It revels in the despicable beauty of U.S. military prowess. It speaks in the thought-terminating clichés spewed out by mass culture and mass media. It imbibes the illusion of omnipotence and wallows in self-adulation. 

The mantra of the militarised state is national security. If every discussion begins with a question of national security, every answer includes force or the threat of force. The preoccupation with internal and external threats divides the world into friend and foe, good and evil.

Those such as Julian Assange who expose the crimes and suicidal folly of empire are ruthlessly persecuted. The truth, a truth Matt uncovers, is bitter and hard.

“While rising empires are often judicious, even rational in their application of armed force for conquest and control of overseas dominions, fading empires are inclined to ill-considered displays of power, dreaming of bold military masterstrokes that would somehow recoup lost prestige and power,” the historian Alfred McCoy writes

“Often irrational even from an imperial point of view, these micro military operations can yield haemorrhaging expenditures or humiliating defeats that only accelerate the process already under way.”

It is vital we see what lies before us. If we continue to be entranced by the images on the walls of Plato’s cave, images that bombard us on screens day and night, if we fail to understand how empire works and its self-destructiveness we will all, especially with the looming climate crisis, descend into a Hobbesian nightmare where the tools of repression, so familiar on the outer reaches of empire, cement into place terrifying corporate totalitarian states.

Chris Hedges worked for nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Latin America, the Middle East and the Balkans for The New York Times, National Public Radio and other news organisations.

NOTE TO READERS: There is now no way left for me to continue to write a weekly column for ScheerPost and produce my weekly television show without your help. The walls are closing in, with startling rapidity, on independent journalism, with the elites, including the Democratic Party elites, clamoring for more and more censorship. Please, if you can, sign up at

This article is fromDeclassified UK.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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32 comments for “Chris Hedges: The Impending Collapse of US Empire

  1. anon
    June 24, 2024 at 23:25

    There were intelligent men like Chris in the 17th century Spanish empire, who could see what needed to be done.
    But like Chris, they had no power to do anything.

  2. Susan Siens
    June 23, 2024 at 15:50

    Excellent essay which makes me want to read Kennard’s book. My only divergence is the myth of “renewable energy.” No, Chris, we are not going to be saved by MORE technology, MORE industrialization (how many millions of trees did they cut down in Scotland to put up more of this “renewable” junk?). We need to start thinking about how to live more simply, and one solution is getting rid of war, one of the worst things humans do to the environment (and I don’t mean that oppressed peoples should just sit down and let warmongers murder them!). It is no accident that the DoD [sic] is the world’s single largest user of petroleum.

  3. Sam F
    June 23, 2024 at 14:48

    Thank you Chris Hedges for this excellent analysis.

    “They stated… that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction… they had no valid evidence”
    See James Bamford Pretext for War: zionist DefSec Wolfowitz hired three zionist agents who set up offices at CIA, DIA, and NSA to “stovepipe” known-false information about Iraqi WMD to warmonger VP Cheney. It originated in an Iraqi politician’s fake Uranium receipts from Africa, which the CIA saw were false, but when he passed them through the secret agency of Italy which considered them potentially true, he zionist offices claimed that the unseen “evidence” was real.

    “if we fail to understand how empire works … we … cement into place …corporate totalitarian states.”
    Way to prevent that include:
    1. prohibit all election and mass media funding other than registered limited individual contributions;
    2. require viewpoint balance in mass media via balanced oversight committees;
    3. support genuine balanced-viewpoint public debate, as by the Congress Of Debate (dotcom);
    4. require all federal branches to have triple-redundant boards with internal checks and balances.

  4. June 23, 2024 at 10:48

    Chrystal clear, Chris. Thank you.

  5. KMRIA
    June 23, 2024 at 08:20

    Thanks Chris. You’ve been singing from the same hymnal now for over two decades. I have always loved your voice, admittedly in the beginning I thought you were overstating things, and over time it has proven to be prophetic (unfortunately). IMO there is no longer any hope that the system can/will be changed from within, and certainly not through electoral politics. Change is definitely coming, but it will be forced upon us by external forces, war being one possibility, but more likely through financial collapse (read de-dollarization). I don’t think most people realize just how close we are to this happening. I’m too old to change my spots, but I’ve been begging my young adult children to find a way to emigrate. Perhaps I’m wrong.

  6. Valerie in Australia
    June 22, 2024 at 17:25

    You need to set up a system where people can donate $5 or $10 to your writing on a one time basis – according to their finances that month. Substack is too big a commitment – and while you are one of the best, there are others I would like to support as well – less known and less popular journalists who need financial support as well. The people you write for – on behalf of – are not people with a lot of extra money. They live amongst those who are struggling and see a lot of need – which they often try to mitigate. I would love to donate to your writing. Please consider a way smaller donors can support your work. Even if I don’t get the privileges of membership, I would like to do my small part.

  7. Susan Leslie
    June 22, 2024 at 11:43

    Spot on Chris – I keep buying your books and sending them to friends so that they can have options beside the mainstream trash…

  8. Dfnslblty
    June 22, 2024 at 09:25

    Thankyou, Mr Hedges, for this introduction to the Known State of Self-delusion..
    usa has been lulled into suicide.
    Matt Kennard might have been/would be more effective had he gone beyond Harlem and used Omaha and Minneapolis and los Angeles and Nashville and Miami and Denver and St-Louis as examples of Poverty — in its myriad meanings — in the rapidly crumbling empire.
    Keep writing.

  9. John Z
    June 22, 2024 at 07:53

    George W. Bush infamously said that “lifestyle is not negotiable.” That describes the modus operandi of those who are in lockstep with and profiting from the military-industrial complex. The lifestyle quote is pathetic and laughable. Many of us are too poor to pay attention, let alone to even think about a lifestyle, and if we did we would not opt for one that crushes out life and strives to dominate everything and everyone.

    • LarcoMarco
      June 22, 2024 at 14:30

      It was George H. W. Bush who stated, “The American lifestyle is not negotiable”. George Dumbya Bush followed suit when he staged a walk-out at the Kyoto Protocol in 2001.

      • John Z
        June 22, 2024 at 22:40

        True, but I listened to his son, “W”, say the very same thing on a televised news byte following 9/11. In this case, history repeated itself.

    • Robert
      June 23, 2024 at 09:28

      Bush Jr. also declared to every government in the world that “you are either with us, or against us”. This should have appalled every American citizen because it was an invitation to constant conflict and war for the many countries which weren’t eager for a 100% buy in to the many hare brained schemes coming out of Washington DC. And every President since then has stayed the course. This decline of empire thing is not going near as smoothly as I had hoped for.

  10. Jacinto Molina
    June 21, 2024 at 22:43

    “The mantra of the militarized state is national security. If every discussion begins with a question of national security, every answer includes force or the threat of force. The preoccupation with internal and external threats divides the world into friend and foe, good and evil. The military machine commits fiascos abroad. At home, by diverting funds and resources to endless war, it disembowels and impoverishes the nation.”

    The threats our so-called leaders are constantly looking to frighten us with so as to justify the continued existence of this albatross of an MIC are deliberately manufactured and grossly exaggerated. They want you to believe that countries like Russia, China, and to a lesser extent, Iran, are an existential threat to the continued existence of America, when, in reality, it is the reverse that is true, it is America’s endless belligerence and constant provocations towards the aforementioned countries that is the real threat to the world — it’s called projection, and it has very little to do with reality, however, it would be a waste of time trying to point this out to the unhinged lunatics/sociopaths who are calling the shots!

    Unfortunately, the MIC is the main driving force of the U.S. economy, if it goes belly-up so does the U.S. economy. In addition to wars that never end, another insufferable byproduct of this is that the MIC continues to enrich, at the expense of the rest of the nation, the worst creatures that have ever slithered upon the face of the earth! And these so-called plutocrats may very well be willing to risk destroying the entire world before forsaking all of the wealth and power the MIC has unjustly bestowed upon them. That is why we are unable to escape this cycle of endless wars and it looks like we never will — until the bitter end, and that end may be a lot closer than the average distracted, clueless American citizen thinks!!!

  11. patricia guerrero
    June 21, 2024 at 21:42

    Theft from the poorest for sure. When Clinton signed the bill killing of Glass Steagall helped create massive homelessness. Wall Street first destroyed loan underwriting standards making loans guaranteed to default then hedge funds swooped in to buy up the inevitable foreclosures, helped along by Pam Bondi, former AG of Florida who let Trump off the hook in return for campaign contributions when when people fought back against the foreclosures she hired 24 retired judges to rubber stamp them. No wonder there is so much despair, so many of us being just a few crises away from the abyss. This is how empires collapse. Then there is Big Religion’s role with their stashes of tax free cash to pay lobbyists who sell their agenda to pols who are repaid with votes from the hinterlands.

  12. June 21, 2024 at 21:30

    It’s interesting to note that the Egyptian empire lasted for over 3,000 years. The Roman empire lasted over 1,400 years. The Ottoman empire lasted over 600 years and the British empire lasted a little over 400 years. The US empire is now about 200 years old.

    I fear that I will outlive my nation.

    • Steve
      June 22, 2024 at 16:20

      The US Empire is more like 100 years old, or 70 depending on whether you date it to the Spanish American war (where it acquired some of Spain’s colonial holdings) or to WWII (where it became a global superpower).

      As far as you outliving the nation, not a chance. You might outlive the empire (though I doubt it unless you are extremely young), but the nation will still hobble along after the empire dissipates. Just look at the UK, Spain, France, Russia, etc. All of their empires crumbled, but the nations themselves are still alive and kicking, even if they are shadows of their former selves.

      • Dennis Nilsson
        June 25, 2024 at 09:56

        Russia was never an empire, as it never had colonies around the world like Great Britain, Spain and France.

  13. wildthange
    June 21, 2024 at 21:12

    The military protection racket of the ages and empires is no longer a sign of protection or superiority. It is now a runaway process for global dominance of profits versus survival of human civilization that is no sign of superiority and only of the short sightedness of short term profits for eventual civilization collapse. The male dominance behavior os sexual frustration applied to warfare rather than welfare.
    Globalization requires a fundamental vision from sadistic pleasuring ourselves with wars.

  14. Empires Fall Always
    June 21, 2024 at 20:34

    I’ve always been fascinating by how Empires fall. We are not the first. One fact that seems rather consistent is that court politics becomes more important than the real world. Foreign policy and military matters are decided based on court politics and factions, with usually bad results when such adventures meet the real world.

    Adventure are planned and promoted in the capital, all based on the politics among the courtiers. Often of course involving their personal greed. But maybe something else, important only in the court and only to the courtiers. At some point, the Empire gets so arrogant, that these court politics games and schemes become the basis of policy. Then the army gets destroyed, and the road to Moscow seems to be a recurring location.

    And, to the great surprise of the now fallen empire, the rest of the world celebrates.

    “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”
    ? Mahatma Gandhi

    Unfortunately for us, he lived before nuclear weapons, so this might be as relevant as Newtonian physics in a Quantum age.

  15. Frank Lambert
    June 21, 2024 at 19:58

    Thank you, Chris Hedges! You hit the bullseye of TRUTH again! Imperial American hubris and the subservient flunkies of NATO will lose the next world war, as they are under an illusion their combined might against the Russian Federation, China and whoever else stand up for national sovereignty will be defeated are in for a devastating surprise.

    • Lesley H
      June 22, 2024 at 19:38

      Our empire has not fallen yet- it’s simply ceased being any kind of democracy- it never was a full representative republic given how many people were disenfranchised, but since 2000, it hasn’t been one at all. THAT is the myth probably 97% of us in the US still believe.

      However, while you is right about what has happened, you fail to mention that over 1/2 the population is and has been against all of these things,, but lost our democratic voice through gerrymandering and voter disenfranchisement, as well as a crooked Supreme Court.

      To put us all together as if we supported any of this is either ignorant or disingenuous. We had no choice. Presidents were installed. Courts packed with unelected lifetime appointments by politicians who gerrymandered their majorities and disregarded the will of the people. Our voices, marching, and votes were and continue to be ignored.

      It is rather the combination of corporatism, the outright transfer of our democracy based political and economic policy to oligarchs, and the *minority* who are manipulated into voting for misguided white nationalism starting with Reagan (Nixon?) that allowed for the propaganda machines and radical gerrymandering to rig the system from then on, combined are causing the failure of our empire.

      Historically, the lack of any representation in a government is the harbinger of social unrest and vulnerability to strongmen. In a government originally designed to be a democracy, it’s the sign that the democracy has already failed.

  16. CaseyG
    June 21, 2024 at 19:47

    “We, the People of the United States, in order to form a More Perfect Union…” sigh—I wonder what happened to that?

  17. Michael G
    June 21, 2024 at 18:55

    Politicians, Corporations, Lobbyists and Lawyers.
    And the first thing they do before they embark on another devil’s errand is establish a bank.

  18. June 21, 2024 at 17:38

    The Clinton-Bush-Obama and Biden legacy. Note, Trump was the exception, but he won’t be if he wins this time. Remember, Jill Stein, Cornell West PhD and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., are all better options than those that will be offered by the Democrats and the GOP.

    • Em
      June 22, 2024 at 14:45

      How close are we systemically to where pigs will fly, when the 3 cited persons are not yet on all the ballots that will actually count?
      Stein, West and Kennedy are only the exceptions, in that they are attempting to break free of the systems two-party Duopoly tango strangle hold.

      • Rafael
        June 23, 2024 at 15:11

        Stein and her colleagues are building a movement and that’s what counts the most. She will also be on the ballot in a majority of states, including the so called swing states.

    • Steve
      June 22, 2024 at 16:35

      I don’t think it’s fair to automatically assume that Trump cannot be an exception again. Trump’s odious personality makes him exceptional. He is viewed by malefactor world leaders as an unpredictable madman and makes them think twice about stepping over the line. It’s no coincidence that Russia/Ukraine and Israel/Hamas popped off after he was gone. Nor is it a coincidence that the Taliban felt comfortable reconquering Afghanistan DURING the American pullout. The Biden administration was viewed as weak and predictable. Certainly more predictable than the guy who dropped a MOAB just for giggles, OKed a drone assassination of an Iranian general, and traded nuclear holocaust rhetoric with North Korea over Twitter.

      That said, while Trump may have kept rogue states from starting any new wars, he didn’t do a damn thing to reign in the military industrial complex. He giddily raised the defense budget, acted as a pitchman for weapons manufactures, and continued the drone programs of his predecessors. He many not have started any wars, but he’s no peacenik.

  19. Jeff Harrison
    June 21, 2024 at 17:34

    “President Biden: No. We’re the United States of America for God’s sake, the most powerful nation in the history– not in the world, in the history of the world. The history of the world. We can take care of both of these and still maintain our overall international defense.” (2023 60 Minutes Interview)

    I think that Genocide Joe needs to read a little more history. As Edward Gibbon said in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, in the end, Rome was militarily defeated. And, sorry Joe, the Roman empire was bigger and badder than the US.

  20. John Z
    June 21, 2024 at 16:01

    The fix is solidly in and the majority of the U.S. citizenry is screwed. Washington pays scant attention to the people beyond the Beltway, except for military-industrial complex and million and billionaires who are complicit in the big lie. Unfortunately, as always, it is those of limited means who are and will be hurt the most, those whose trust in the rotten system has greased the skids that puts them first on the list of expendable, collateral fatalities. The light at the end of the tunnel is definitely the U.S. doomsday train, coming directly at us.

  21. June 21, 2024 at 15:47

    Stratocracy with oligarchy demands is a fascist state.
    Like all great empires before her the US mimics the Roman Empire into oblivion.
    The sooner she is gone the better the World will be.

  22. JonnyJames
    June 21, 2024 at 14:22

    Thanks Chris, the Alfred McCoy quote is quite apt. It’s history textbook imperial hubris and the domestic parade of sociopath-kakistocrats for us plebs to praise and “vote” for. It’s as if the domestic population has been conditioned to worship their oppressors – a kind of CIA/MassMedia Mockingbird psyop that engenders a collective Stockholm Syndrome?

    • Jim Glover
      June 21, 2024 at 20:16

      Yes, unfortunately

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